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Official estimates differed on employment figures. According to
the Ministry of Planning, employment in the formal sector increased
at the rate of 2.6 percent per year between 1976 and 1986 (the
census years). The number of workers in agriculture stayed steady,
at around 4.2 to 4.5 million, during the same period. Agricultural
workers represented 44 percent and 37 percent of total employment
at the beginning and end of the period, respectively, indicating a
decline in agriculture's share. The preceding data may exaggerate
the participation of labor in agriculture, which in the 1980s
became only a part-time occupation for many workers as employment
patterns in the countryside began to resemble those of some urban
areas. Overall, the 1986 census showed that employment in rural
areas was about 6.19 million, compared with 5.48 million in urban
In 1976 and 1986, industry absorbed about 13 percent and 16
percent, respectively, of total employment. The annual growth rate
of employment in the sector was 4.5 percent over the same period.
The number of people employed over the same period fell
substantially in construction and rose steadily in the services,
which absorbed about 31 percent of the labor force in 1986.
Employment in trade grew significantly following the initiation of
Sadat's open-door policy and the import boom after 1974, and
leveled off subsequently (see
table 6, Appendix).
The distribution of employment also shifted along gender lines.
Female participation in the labor force grew steadily, although
slowly. One estimate gave the female share of total employment as
8 percent and 9.5 percent in 1976 and 1988, respectively,
representing a growth rate of 4.1 percent annually
(see Family and Kinship
, ch. 2.)
The breakdown of public versus private employment was difficult
to ascertain because official statistics did not distinguish
between the two. Employment in the private sector in 1977 was more
than double (6.6 million to 3.1 million) that in the public sector
and was concentrated in agriculture and the services. It has been
estimated that the increase in private employment accounted for
more than 65 percent of overall employment growth between 1973 and
1983, suggesting that the ratio of private to public employment
increased. Considering that both overall employment and government
employment stagnated after 1983, the ratio also probably remained
unaltered thereafter (for employment of Egyptians abroad, see
, this ch.).
Information on employment in the late 1980s in the informal
sector, which included small-scale manufacturing, handicrafts,
personal services, retailing, and other ill-defined activities, was
not available. Activities of the sector were not registered, and
participants changed their jobs frequently. Most of those
considered unemployed probably engaged in one or another of these
activities; hence, the size of the informal sector was most likely
to expand as unemployment increased at the close of the decade.
Mobility between the informal and the formal sectors was
effectively nonexistent; those who joined the informal sector
overwhelmingly remained there.
Employment grew at a slower rate than did the population and
the labor force, resulting in a worsening unemployment situation.
According to official accounts, the rate of unemployment increased
from 2.8 percent in the period from 1975 to 1977 to about 12
percent in 1986. The figures probably understated the problem,
because other informed sources put the rates at 20 percent to 25
percent in 1987 and 1988. Analysts adduced a multitude of reasons
for the rapid increase in unemployment, including high population
and low economic growth rates, inability of industry to absorb
larger numbers of workers, high capital intensity in new industrial
enterprises, the focus of the 1980s Five-Year Plan on the
infrastructure, and the return of Egyptians formerly working
In addition to unemployment, economists pointed to
underemployment, or disguised unemployment. There was a consensus
that underemployment was rampant in the government bureaucracy,
because of overstaffing and low remuneration. In 1990 the
government was considering paying private-sector employers a twoyear salary for every new graduate they hired. It viewed the
measure as a means of checking the expansion of the bureaucracy and
ameliorating the unemployment problem.
Although Egypt had a high percentage of high-school and college
graduates, the country continued to face shortages in skilled
labor. Probably 35 percent of civil servants and 60 percent of
persons in public-sector enterprises were unskilled or illiterate.
The lack of skilled labor was blamed on, among other things, the
cultural bias against manual work, the theoretical nature of
courses in most higher education institutions, and the emigration
of skilled personnel abroad, where they received higher wages.
There were complaints that the implementation of development plans
was hampered by the insufficient supply of skilled labor.
Data as of December 1990